I was watching television last night, and that’s when it hit me: my love affair with the “idiot box” was over. I walked over to the screen and gave it one last hug, whispering in its ear.
“I grew up loving you, but you abandoned me. Nothing pleased me more than spending my nights with you, but now I want to get as far away as possible.”
The television sat silent for a brief, blissful moment. Then it flashed an ad for acid reflux disease my way. I think it thought it had won again. Only time will tell.
What caused me to have this moment of clarity? Had I finally come to my senses? Will everything I do from this moment forward make sense? I doubt it. But something “came together” last night, and it was disturbing.
I was sitting there watching a show about a team of brainiac undercover agents who use science and smarts to solve problems.
Sounds a lot like Mission Impossible, I thought. So I gave it a try. Truth is, I was just too lazy to find another program. It takes at least a half hour to sort through the 500+ channels we have, and I didn’t want to spend another evening complaining that “there’s nothing to watch.” I have books. I know how to read. So, the bottom line is that it’s just laziness. We all need to admit this.
The show was annoying (to use a polite word.) A music soundtrack constantly played underneath. This is a director’s clever way of making us think that something is important: life is always more exciting with a musical underscore. The director also used jump cuts and a shaky camera to try to heighten a sense of drama. And the dialogue – rapid one-liners that everyone in the team spoke, one after the other – were ludicrous: nonstop simile that nauseated the senses.
“Remember to shut the door when we leave.”
“I’ll shut the door on his life in 2 seconds.”
“And turn out the lights.”
“I’m gonna turn out his lights forever.”
“Not as cool as he’ll be when he’s on a slab at the morgue.”
You get the idea. Plug the dialogue, the cast, and the plot into every TV drama, and you wouldn’t know the difference. Only the show’s names tell you that you’re watching something else.
As bad as all that was, that wasn’t the reason that I fell out of love with television. I felt that television was “using me.” Maybe I was naïve when I was younger and couldn’t see it. But now I do. Television doesn’t care. All television does is make us sick so we can buy medicine.
During the show, I noticed that the music was “dark” and had an ominous tone. I grew restless and I could feel my heart beating faster as my pulse no doubt quickened. Then, as soon as I felt awful, a commercial came on telling me what diseases I probably had, and that I better get to a doctor so she could dispense their medication to me.
This was the pattern all evening: a few minutes of entertainment that brought physical and mental stress to the body, and then a commercial to remedy it. Food commercials made the mouth water and the tummy growl. These were followed by ads for diabetes remedies or cholesterol medicine. I could go on and on, but I think I have made my point.
THE BOOK THAT CHANGED MY LIFE
Many years ago, I read a book by Nicholas Johnson, former head of The Federal Communications Commission (FCC). It was called How to Talk Back to Your Television Set, and it changed my life. The basic premise of the book is a simple one: don’t accept what you see and hear on television, question it. Think for yourself. This is a credo which applies to life in general, and I think it is worthy of repeating.
Television can be enjoyable. I don’t think I could ever give it up completely. I enjoy watching sports, classic movies, and informative programs; and I do need to get my dose of the news. But I won’t watch it blindly and accept everything I see. Those days are gone.
Maybe television more accurately represents the modern world, or at least its dark side. So forgive me when I say that I long for the innocence of Leave It to Beaver, when kids were goofy, and parents were wise and dependable and taught us about life.
Now I must end my rant so I can scour my television for something positive. Where have you gone, Captain Kangaroo?